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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

I buried a piece of my childhood this weekend.

For five years I resisted doing the inevitable, and my Sony Walkman rested on my nightstand, unused. On occasion, I’d slide AA batteries in, just to make sure the old warhorse was still alive. Each time, it was.

The walkman, complete with a digital radio, served me well in high school, college and jogs through Washington, D.C. neighborhoods. It served me best after sundown. That’s when it would work its magic, pulling in far-away radio stations from Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Montreal. Montreal was the greatest treat, for the news broadcast was in French, and I’d feel a sense of accomplishment when I understood a word, sometimes “aujourd’hui,” and, if the static wasn’t too great during the sports report, “gardien de but.” Gardien de but means goalie, and aujourd’hui is French for today. There, I still remember that. Meaningless information, I realize, since I can’t identify any of the other words in the sentence. Perhaps I’d be able to say “Today’s goalie.” But I doubt it – some tense issue would trip me up.

From Chicago, Loop traffic took center stage in the early evening, while WBAL ran its Orioles pre-game show, leading right up to game time. I can’t remember any WBZ reports out of Boston, but the music pumping out of WKBW in Buffalo was clear, and often enough, Don McLean’s American Pie was the DJs song of choice. American Pie was also a favorite on WNBC, back when Wolfman Jack did overnights in the 1980s and I listened to the New York station from my Connecticut bedroom well after my parents had gone to bed.

Now the Walkman is asleep, perhaps for good. It’s been replaced by the laptop, my iPhone, and digital cable, all of which make it too easy to watch news, or sporting events, from anywhere. Two weeks ago I walked to pick up some chips and salsa – my daughter demanded, so I delivered – and I turned on the Major League Baseball app on the iPhone. I quickly flipped from one game to the next. There was no challenge. For $14.99, you too could listen to tonight’s Padres-Phillies or Red Sox-Indians game, no matter where you live. For $99, go ahead, watch it.

No longer am I at the mercy of atmospheric conditions. The AM waves may or may not be bouncing off the clouds tonight. Who cares? I have the iPhone. In a way, that’s too bad.

A part of me misses the game of chance, never knowing if 1100 in Cleveland would come in, or if 1090 in Baltimore would bleed through. I knew one thing: WTIC 1080 out of Hartford would never be audible, as its signal would rocket north, leaving many of us in Southern Connecticut in the dark about news from our state capitol. I suppose there is an app for Hartford news too.

For the record, I didn’t really bury the Walkman, I just put it in a storage cart in the basement, where it will stay, off, as its been for all these years.

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IMG_3535The copy editors would disappear for a few minutes, perhaps to get a cup of coffee – though the rumor was they were having sex in some back room – before returning to their desks. Sometimes one of them would remember to bring their prop, a mug full of java, though it mattered little to me, so I can’t confirm that detail.

I couldn’t care less that they had significant others. My only concern? That they would finish whatever they were doing in time to edit my copy, because they were easier to work with than some of the other copy jockeys. They usually did.

Random stories make life interesting and I try to hold on to them for moments like this weekend, when I drove by the Register building for the first time in at least a year, on my way to a family get-together in Essex. The building itself looks no different than it did a lifetime ago.

I spent the better part of two years at the New Haven Register, writing whatever the editors needed. If no one was available to cover that Lyman Hall girl’s basketball game, I’d be ready and willing. If the Hartford Whalers beat reporter needed someone to carry the Tandy computer, I’d be at the Civic Center, watching the Whalers play in front of their standard audience, a half-empty arena. Long Islanders, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

The truth is even as a sophomore in college, I was being told by professors and “experts” that making a living in media was impossible. At a Society of Professional Journalists convention in Tennessee, a columnist from the Miami Herald told the students in the audience “do something else if you want to be successful.” My quiet response? “Fuck you, don’t tell me what to do. I’ll do just fine.”

But to do “just fine,” I’d had to deliver whatever the Register editors wanted. That included more high school sporting events than I’d care to remember. It also meant going to work the night I graduated college. All hands were on deck that month, as both the Rangers and Knicks were making championship runs. The Rangers would later deliver for their faithful.

The Register is still there, though, like most newspapers, the staff isn’t what it used to be. The good news? If two copy editors have time to kill, hey, there’s plenty of unused space to share a quiet cup of coffee.

 

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TVBarry Beck wouldn’t shoot the puck, Don Maloney didn’t always get back on defense and when Doug Soetaert was in net, well, I don’t remember a damn thing about Doug Soetaert.

These are names I haven’t thought of in 25 years. Back then, however, they were Gods. I’d have hockey cards littered throughout my grandmother’s New York apartment, ripping open pack after pack, looking for that elusive Phil Esposito or Mark Howe card to complete a random team set.

At night, if I was lucky, my older cousin would come over and watch the game with me. I’d chronicle the game on a yellow sheet of paper, trying to impress him with my ability to write down names based on jersey numbers. Laidlaw was No. 2. Beck was No. 5. There were two Maloneys, so I can’t remember which was which, but I think one was No. 26, the other No. 12. If I’m wrong, a Rangers fan will let me know. Here’s hoping Eric – that’s my cousin – reads this. He’ll weigh in. Trust me.

If Eric came over, the winter night was complete. Me, him, my brother – who was playing with Matchbox cars and couldn’t care less about the game – with Jim Gordon and Bill “The Big Whistle’ Chadwick on Channel 9. My grandmother’s old television could barely handle the stress, and no matter how often we moved the rabbit ears, the picture would flicker so wildly that only a punch to its side would fix it. There was no science to it, but smacking the clunker worked.

It was during those early days of my life that I first hoped to be a journalist, a chronicler of life. It was those broadcasts, when it was too cold to go outside, that I would take game notes and wait to see if Gordon and Chadwick had some of the same observations I had, all of which was scribbled on the yellow paper.

Last night, those memories flooded back after Chadwick died at 94.

Those WOR broadcasts helped shape my future. I still use a yellow legal pad whenever possible.

Had I known Chadwick lived on Long Island before his death, I would have found a way to thank him. May this post be my posthumous thank you. I hope his family reads this.

And in heaven, I hope for The Big Whistle’s sake that Beck shoots the puck. But I wouldn’t count on it.

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chalkboard-and-newspaperI’m a few hours away from climbing on a Southwest flight to Arizona, where editors and publishers will meet to discuss the future of the newspaper industry. It’s a sobering thought, really, because each day a newspaper somewhere lets go of writers or, in the case of a few daily papers, shuts down entirely.

The Boston Globe fired about 60 editorial employees earlier this week. We all know about the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the Rocky Mountain News. Plenty of journalists are scared to death that the business they know and love is going to fade away, and I’ve talked to quite a few reporters and editors who argue local media is dying because Americans are  completely at ease getting their news from the likes of Sean Hannity or Keith Olbermann.

But I don’t see any of it.

Negativity and sarcasm runs deeply through a journalist’s veins. Even in my personal life I keep a few close friends nearby and everyone else is kept at a distance. But when it comes to the newspapers, I chuckle, because the financial collapse of the industry has little to do with people being less interested in news. In fact, it’s the opposite. The failure of papers also has nothing to do with the right-wing argument that most publications have a liberal bias and that’s why they’re failing. How stupid and self serving of anyone to make that case.

Here’s what really happened: The newspaper industry was caught off guard. Too many papers, for too long, treated the Web like a secondary part of the business model and now that readers have skewed heavily online, we’re all desperately trying to play catch up. Most journalists get it, they’ve seen this coming, as have other newspaper employees. But advertisers –  many are graybeards –  have yet to catch on.

Most papers also decided to give their content away for free. Was that a mistake? Well, it’s arguable, but current ad revenue is not supporting the open-access model. It’s also created an atmosphere where most readers demand their news for free. So if we’re going to charge, there better be “must-have information” behind that curtain.

In time, newspapers, as in old-time print editions may also vanish. I’m betting on that.

But companies that figure out a way to monetize the Web will succeed, even without a print edition. I don’t have all the answers, though I have plenty of ideas because I can’t afford not to. The newspaper industry I joined in 1993 at the Connecticut Post is dead and gone. It will never return. But the media industry is going nowhere. This week in Arizona there will be a whole lot of smart people in one hotel. Seems like a pretty good time to crack the code.

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